SkinHaptics turns your palm into a touchscreen
Mon 11 Apr 2016
Researchers from the University of Sussex have found a new method to use your skin as a touchscreen, by creating sensations on the palm using ultrasound. Called SkinHaptics, the innovation is the first to find a way for users to gain sensation from an interactive display projected on their hand, and could be used to turn the hand into a display extension for smart watches or other devices.
Haptics is the field of technology that relates to touch sensation and control. Previous ideas for using the body as a haptic display interface for smart devices involved vibrations or pins, both of which need to physically contact the skin to work, which would then interrupt the screen display. But SkinHaptics sends sensation ultrasonically from the back of the hand, leaving the screen display on the palm undisturbed. SkinHaptics uses time-reversal processing to send the ultrasound waves through the hand, with the waves becoming more targeted as they travel, so that they can land on a very precise point on the palm.
This technology has potential to be useful in the future, particularly in the case of smart watches and other small smart devices. As Professor Sriram Subramanian, leader of the research team at the University of Sussex, noted, “As we wear technology more, it gets smaller and we look at it less, and therefore multisensory capabilities become much more important. If you imagine you are on your bike and want to change the volume control on your smartwatch, the interaction space on the watch is very small. So companies are looking at how to extend this space to the hand of the user. What we offer people is the ability to feel their actions when they are interacting with the hand.”
Haptic technology, which includes vibrating controllers in video games and vibrate alerts on phones and other smart devices, is a fast-growing component of the technology market. Research estimates that the overall haptics technology market could reach $29.84 billion by 2020. While haptic technology enthusiasts focus on applications primarily in the virtual reality gaming and medical fields, products like SkinHaptics open the door for ever more diverse applications of haptic technology.